Saturday, August 8, 2015

Zero Tolerance (ZP-ZEROT.WAD)

by "Zero Prophet"

ZDoom modding entered something of a renaissance after Xaser's release of Zen Dynamics, which showed just how far the ZDoom engine could be pushed in terms of weapon mods. The engine has come a long way since then, with even crazier gameplay mods and concepts (and surely more to follow). Zero Prophet released his Zero Tolerance in 2008. It's mostly a weapons mod as it doesn't fool with the properties of any of the monsters higher than and including the demon, but it does mess around with the rest of the Doom II trash. The weaponry is far more futuristic than Doom's, as you're playing a rogue android who stands alone against the infernal invasion.

Zero Tolerance builds off of the narrative of Zen Dynamics, but the framing story doesn't quite track with Xaser's rendition. It feels more like a different origin story. Here, the Zen Dynamics corporation is a subsidiary of UAC (rather than a rival pre-Hell on Earth as in Zen). They've been working in parallel with the Biophage division (ultimately responsible for the cyborg protagonist of Zen Dynamics), but the "Prototype" has its own issues, resulting in the death of its lead developers and presumably the freeze of the parallel Biophage divisions. The android is shipped out to Phobos, where it waits in cold sleep, until it is reactivated in a last-ditch effort by Phobos personnel while the initial wave of demons arrives. Thus begins Zero Tolerance.

Most of the changes Zero Tolerance makes are centered around the gunplay. There is a brand new assortment of weapons with which you can slay your hated demon foes that stretches in to slot 8 and 9. Interestingly, Zero Prophet dumps the fist entirely. Your default weapon is a flare gun, which isn't the most powerful weapon, but it gets the job done and has effectively unlimited ammo... You just have to reload it after every shot. You can upgrade its various aspects by collecting what were previously berserk packs. The upgrade kits beef up your flare gun and are stacked on top of portable medikits that you can activate with a bound hotkey. I guess you have to trade effectiveness for flexibility, since it only restores up to 50% of your health. You can get the "Beavertooth" chainsaw, of course, but its primary fire is a momentary swing. If you want to get down to close-range grinding, you'll have to use its alt-fire.

Your starting weapon is the "Prophet", a .45 handgun and all-around workhorse. It's great for dispatching all of the low-tier monsters in spite of the small clips, and if you happen to snag another (from the rare shotgun guy spawn), it's a virtual room clearer as it's far better at stunlocking enemies than the shotgun replacement. Speaking of, the "Susan" Fusion Pistol is alright, but as it fires projectiles it's too risky to use to take on all the hitscanning zombies, and when used at point blank range will cause splash damage to the player. It does fire a lot faster than the shotgun, though, and multiple projectiles WILL go through columns of weaker enemies like the shotgun. The "Bouncer" machine gun is a beefy-sounding chaingun replacement that curiously occupies slot 7. More on that later. It's pretty powerful for a bullet weapon.

The "Xanadu" pulse rifle is the plasma gun replacement, at slot 6. It's not that much functionally different from the chaingun except its shots bounce around, inflicting secondary damage, so it's good to shoot into a crowded room. The "Genova" grenade launcher sits in slot 9. It does pretty powerful area damage with a highly visible splash pattern, but to me doesn't feel quite on the level of the original rocket launcher. It's got roughly the same power, I think, judging from how long it takes to kill a baron. The "Zero Infinity" is the BFG replacement, occupying slot 0. It uses the same ammo as the pulse rifle, and is the only weapon besides the chainsaw to get an alt-fire (since the others are all reload functions). Its primary attack is kind of homing, but its movement is pretty erratic. The real show is in the alt-fire, which creates a black hole that draws enemies in and swiftly shaves their health down to oblivion.

If you're wondering what's up with slots 4, 5, and 8, well... Slot 4 goes to the "Raiden" assault rifle. It's not quite as beefy as the machine gun, but it's a nice way to burn your pistol ammo if the dual pistols aren't cutting it for you against the zombies. Certainly, it's the earliest available stunlock you can get. The only problem is that it drops exclusively from chaingun zombie variants in Doom II. The "Atlas" flak cannon is on slot 5. It replaces the combat shotgun, so again, not normally native to the original Doom. It's about as powerful though not nearly as visually appealing as the ol' double-barreled shotgun and the bounce offers some tactical possibilities. The "Prometheus" is a weird ol' weapon and can only be grabbed from a slain Cyberdemon, which makes it the most exclusive armament of the set. It uses the same ammo as the shotgun - radioactive rounds - and fires powerful explosives. Every third shot deploys shredding, toxic vortexes that chew up anything that gets near them.

Things would be pretty crappy for the Doom monsters, most of whom aren't altered to compensate for your increased and varied firepower apart from a few new gib animations and increased gore across the board. However, Zero Prophet saw fit to add variants for the new shotgun guy, imp, and commando, on top of changing the regular troopers into dual-pistol toting zombies. The net result makes Doom - especially hitscanner-heavy levels - much harder. Just try chewing through the large, open area in "Gauntlet". The imps aren't so bad, but the darker ones (democytes?) have unusual attack patterns that make tackling them a bit less straightforward than the vanilla variety. Shotgun guys and chaingun zombies have always been glass cannons, but the switch from shotgun to fusion pistol forces a much more tactical playstyle when hitscanners are involved, because the zombies feel far more dangerous than their vanilla analogues.

Zero Tolerance will, of course, throw off overtuned levels and probably isn't great fun with slaughtermaps. It's hard to lay down suppression fire when you have to reload and so much of slaughter play is balanced around the arcane mechanics of the BFG 9000 that the "Zero Infinity" can hardly hold a candle. I didn't have much of a problem with the vanilla Doom levels I tested it on, except as noted. "The Living End" was pretty fun, though ammo got tight in a few places before I remembered the unofficial secret, and that teleport to the three-way split path is pretty murderous, as would be any trap that puts you blind against some hitscanners. It's just those zombies, man.

Until Xaser decides to tear out the framework for Zen Dynamics so that we can play his killer cyborg, we'll have to make do with Zero Prophet's loveletter. And, uh, ZP's work clearly stands on its own. Some players won't like defaulting to the flare gun in desperation, and others will hate the hitscanner Hell that the buffed-up Doom II trash affords. That's why we have difficulty sliders, though. While I miss the shotgun and super shotgun, Zero Tolerance has its own quirks that makes for a compelling gameplay experience that you might want to check out.



  1. I remember playing this ages ago, back when I mainly used ZDoom (I'm more of a PrBoom+/Eternity user nowadays). Was pretty cool, if a bit underdeveloped.

  2. The main complaint I've always had with Zero Tolerance has been the new human enemies. I hesitate to call them "trash" because they can actually waste you in record time. I begin to wonder how the demons ever won, fighting against these badasses.

    It's not just the increased damage, it's that they fire so QUICKLY. The "wind-up" time provided by the vanilla enemies is nonexistent with these new guys. It's rather disheartening receiving two separate 40-damage shots from across a room with no cover before you can even react.

    It's a shame because the weapons are actually really impressive, even now, what, 7 years after it was made. I just wish the new enemies weren't so... evil.